"Choir Boy" (55587)

“Choir Boy,” a brilliant, compassionate and touching work by African-American playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, is a colossal theatrical experience! McCraney is making an explosively impressive Broadway debut. I had the pleasure of seeing it previously when it was first presented off-Broadway and it was a tremendous experience then, so imagine my joy in hearing it was coming to Broadway.

Pharus, the play’s main character, is a student at a Black all-boys prep school. An intelligent, sensitive, caring young man, his salvation, the things that keep him inspired, are his gifted vocal talents and his ability to head the school choir. This is an honor that means the world to him and it is a measure of his worth. Pharus also happens to be gay and is blatantly bullied by Bobby, who constantly “calls him out of his name.” The other young men don’t seem to be critical of Pharus: they all appear to get along with him and want to work with him as head of the choir. Bobby, however, seems to be on a mission to make Pharus’ existence a living hell. McCraney does not sugarcoat the pain and loneliness a young gay man might experience in a setting like this.

I truly love the powerful step dancing and spiritual, dynamic, acapella gospel singing that this gifted young cast delivers. This superbly talented group of actors includes Jeremy Pope as Pharus; J. Quintan Johnson as Bobby; John Clay III as Anthony, Pharus’ roommate and a true friend; Nicholas L. Ashe as Junior, Bobby’s lackey; Caleb Eberhardt as David; and ensemble members Daniel Bellomy, Jonathan Burke, Gerald Caesar and Marcus Gladney. When I say these boys can put it down, I mean they can put it down. This production is vivid proof that step belongs on Broadway! Watching it will make your heart pound and your hands clap in appreciation of its power and beauty.

For Headmaster Marrow, they could not have cast anyone other than Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper. His character is immensely important: not only does he represent a compassionate, understanding, caring adult, but he also must enforce the rules of the school. Headmaster Marrow is what a Black man in a position of leadership should be: he is fair, understanding, open-minded, accepting of his students’ flaws and weaknesses but also acknowledging of their strengths and gifts. Cooper handles the role with perfect grace, dignity and distinction. I just love watching this great actor work. He carries himself in such a stunning manner, his presence on stage demands your attention and you are happy to give it. Austin Pendleton who plays Mr. Pendleton, a teacher, is funny, but also sensitive, and his character is well placed in this meaningful work.

McCraney creates a story about humanity. He lets the audience see that it is wrong to mistreat and punish someone because they are being true to their nature. This incredibly moving production is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on West 47th Street through March 12. It has explicitly delightful direction by Trip Cullman.

For more information, visit www.manhattantheatreclub.com.